Sculpture through its Material Histories
Emilie Passignat - Twisting Marble: Observations on the Figura Serpentinata and its Applications 121
Emilie Passignat Twisting Marble: Observations on the Figura Serpentinata and its Applications The Florentine school of sculpture used to teach its disciples to give a greater sense of movement to their figures by designing them so that each limb performed a dif ferent action from the others. It even wanted this disposition of limbs to make a contrast which would appear as a pyramidal shape, animated like a f lame, in the belief that, by imitating the move- ment of fire, there would be more actions in the characters represented. — Charles Le Brun, 16671 These words, written by the French painter and founder of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Charles Le Brun, which were to prove definitive for the fortune of Mannerism, summarize the essence of the figura serpentinata and of fer a critical re-interpretation of it. By specifying that the principle of the figura serpentinata stemmed from the teachings of the Florentine school, at whose head Michelangelo is usually placed, Le Brun redefined it as a rule which has the fundamental objective of ani- mating the figure by a spiralling movement inspired by fire. Setting aside the fairly direct reference to terminology that originated with Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, whose famous treatise of 1584 appears like a watermark in these few lines, the term figura serpentinata enjoyed only a brief role in art theory during this period, but re-emerging in William Hogarth’s ‘ser- pentine line’, where it is held up as the ideal symptomatic shape of...
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